Dreamworld parent company faces $4.5m fines over four deaths

Dreamworld parent company Ardent Leisure will face three charges over the 2016 Thunder River Rapids Ride tragedy that killed four people.

Jul 21, 2020, updated Jul 21, 2020
Cromwell chair Gary Weiss  (Photo: AAP Image/Dan Peled)

Cromwell chair Gary Weiss (Photo: AAP Image/Dan Peled)

Queensland’s independent Work Health and Safety Prosecutor Aaron Guilfoyle filed the three charges in the Brisbane Magistrates Court under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 over Australia’s worst theme park tragedy.

The incident shocked the nation and sparked a state-wide overhaul of safety for amusement rides at theme parks to school fairs.

The charges include the company failing to comply with its health and safety duty and exposing individuals to a risk of serious injury or death.

Each charge carries a maximum penalty of $1.5 million.

The families of the four people who died in the tragedy – Kate Goodchild, 32, her brother Luke Dorsett, 35, and his partner Roozi Araghi, 38, from Canberra, along with 42-year-old Sydney mother of two Cindy Low – were informed Tuesday morning ahead of the charges being formally laid.

The charges relate to the tragic malfunction of the Thunder River Rapids ride at Dreamworld around 2:15pm on 25 October 2016. Two rafts, including Raft 5 carrying the four victims and two other passengers, collided on a mechanised conveyor near the ride’s unloading area. The raft partially flipped and was pulled vertically into the conveyor trapping four people. A 10-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl survived.

Ardent Leisure Group acknowledged the charges against subsidiary company Ardent Leisure Limited.

“First and foremost, we again express our deepest sympathies to the families and friends of Roozbeh Araghi, Luke Dorsett, Kate Goodchild and Cindy Low for their loss and ongoing suffering and say sorry to all of the people impacted by this tragedy,” the company said in a statement.

Considerable changes had been made at Dreamworld over the past few years, it said.

“Dreamworld has taken substantive and proactive steps to improve safety across the entire park and continues to enhance existing systems and practices, as well as adopt new ones, as we develop and implement our safety case in accordance with the Queensland Government’s new major amusement park safety regulations.

“The new leadership team is committed to continuing to improve and enhance safety systems and practices with the aim of becoming a global industry leader in theme park safety and operations.”

The prosecutions are the result of an assessment by the independent Work Health and Safety Prosecutor, Aaron Guilfoyle.

Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace today said she was “very supportive of his swift action in relation to this” and expected the case to be heard soon.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk declined to comment, noting “they are criminal charges and of a very serious nature”.

The assessment followed Coroner James McDougall’s six-week inquest into the deaths in 2018.

In his scathing report handed down on 20 February this year, McDougall found the design and construction of the ride posed a “significant risk” to patrons’ safety and the park’s systems were “frighteningly unsophisticated.”

He found the park’s safety and maintenance systems were “rudimentary at best” and there had been a “systemic failure by Dreamworld in relation to all aspects of safety.”

McDougall held that it was “reasonably suspected that Ardent Leisure may have committed an offence under Workplace Health and Safety Law.” As a final recommendation of the 300-page report, he referred the matter to the Office of Industrial Relations to investigate whether to lay charges.

Following the coroner’s report, significant changes were also introduced to Queensland’s Workplace Health and Safety legislation, which included annual audits on Queensland’s six major theme parks.

Other changes included mandatory major inspections of all amusement rides by qualified engineers every 10 years, more stringent operator training, a comprehensive safety case and licensing regime for major theme parks that included a full safety assessment of all rides at the park, and more stringent record-keeping for all amusement rides in relation to inspections, maintenance and operator competency.

Dreamworld and Whitewater World have remained closed since 23 March due to Coronavirus risks, but were scheduled to reopen in time for the September school holidays.

In its half-yearly results released in February, Ardent Leisure said its theme park trading during the 2019 Christmas holiday period had returned to be the strongest in years after being decimated by the tragedy.

Gold Coast mayor Tom Tate said he hoped the charges being laid could help to give the victims’ families closure.

“It’s the right thing to do to let the court deal with it,” he said. “We need to make sure that not just Dreamworld, but the rest of the theme parks worldwide, learn from this lesson.”

This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas

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